Robert Jenkins was the master of a merchant ship, the brig, Rebecca, in the year 1739. On 09 April, the Rebecca was sailing past the Caribbean port of Havana when a Spanish schooner ordered her to heave to. The Spanish attempted to extort the payment of duties on the cargo of sugar and rum that the Rebecca was carrying. The master of the ship refused to pay. The Spanish sailors began to harrass and torture Jenkins and the rest of the English crew threatening them with greater injury if the demand was not complied with. Jenkins continued to refuse to submit to the Spanish, who, with a cutlass, sliced off one of his ears. He was then handed the ear and told to give it to his English King. Jenkins did so at a sitting of Parliament on 19 October 1739. The brutal act sparked a war between England and Spain that would last four years.
The episode for which the War of Jenkins' Ear was named was only one part of the reason England and Spain went to war in 1739. The Florida / Carolina border had been in contention for many years. Then, in 1732, the lands lying between the Savannah and Altahama Rivers were granted by King George II to a group of twenty trustees to become the Colony of Georgia. The eminent approach of English settlement closer to Florida was seen as a threat to Spain. Another contributing factor to the Anglo-Spanish war were the abuses England had been making toward the Assiento of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Spain also was opposed to the logging activities England engaged in in the Honduras. The cutting off of Robert Jenkins' ear was only a small part of the whole problem, but it so aroused public sentiment that the English Parliament was compelled to declare war against Spain.
The governor of the new colony of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe, bristled at the opportunity to attack the Spanish settlements in Florida. The declaration of the war was just what he needed to legitimize his desire to invade the Spanish colony. Oglethorpe enlisted a troop of colonists from Georgia and South Carolina and Indians from the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Creek tribes and launched a successful expedition against Fort San Francisco de Pupo and Fort Picolata along the San Juan River in January, 1740.
Despite his earlier victories, Oglethorpe was unsuccessful, in May, of subduing St. Augustine.
In 1742, a Spanish of over two thousand attacked the colonial forces at St. Simon's Island, but were repulsed by an English force of perhaps five hundred. The battle, known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, was noted for an incident in which nearly two hundred Spanish soldiers were either killed or taken prisoner in a heated skirmish on the narrow road leading from Fort St. Simons to Fort Frederica.
A final expedition against St. Augustine was undertaken by Oglethorpe in the early spring of 1743, but it was as inconclusive as previous attempts. The recent influx of Scot and Ulster-Scot emigrants to the new Georgia colony gave Governor Oglethorpe fresh blood from which to draw troops for his militia. With a force composed primarily of Scot Highlanders, Oglethorpe marched on St. Augustine. In a surprising turn of events, the Spanish simply refused to return the colonists' fire.
The War of Jenkins' Ear essentially merged into the King George's War, the colonial phase of the War of the Austrian Succession.